Category: Galle.

The Next Time You Visit Galle

By Abdul H. Azeez

Galle has many attractions other than just the Galle Fort, something that you may like to keep in mind when you visit the place again, maybe during December, or the Literary Festival.

That said however the Fort does have some snappy things to see, and so I’ll start this non-official pseudo guide to Galle from its most famous location.

The Fort

The Fort used to be an island. It was built by the Portuguese and was then taken over by the Dutch, before finally being taken over by the British. Then of course, we claimed it for our own after independence. There’s a nice little poetic story of Sri Lanka’s colonial struggle in there somewhere if you like, but the Fort nowadays seems to have developed a need to be protected from its own caretakers. Its Dutch era houses and other buildings were sold at a rate by residents looking to make a quick buck. But with the naming of the Fort as a World Heritage Site this seems to have slowed down. There are also regulations preventing modern buildings from being constructed so even if new buildings do come up they are invariably in the old style, expansive architecture of the Dutch.

Walk around its streets, enjoy the architecture and sample its many cafés. Some are rather up-market, targeted at the deeper pocketed tourist than your average local. But there are many that are affordable and great to hang out at. The Peddlar’s Inn and The Gallery Café are nice places. Accommodation is similarly varied, with high end and more affordable inns and hotels. Take a tent and camp on the ramparts if you are more adventure-inclined; the experience is incomparable.

The Sights

Venture to the top most edges of its Moon and Star bastions for amazing views of the city. Catch a cricket match at the Galle International Stadium, for free, with exclusive seating. Also watch the cliff-divers jump off the ramparts into the sea. They are more amphibious than human, and one wonders how they manage to dive with such accuracy into waters so dangerously populated with rocks. The Dutch church is a must see.

If you can, get the caretaker talking (he is a very agreeable gentleman) and get him to tell you a little of the extraordinary story behind the construction of the church. Also, try and get a look at the dungeons underneath but be warned, they were walled off during British times and most of the exciting things the caretaker will tell you about them are hidden from all eyes now. There is also a great little museum run by a private collector that has a huge amount of historic paraphernalia associated with old school Sri Lanka and its Dutch heritage. Be sure to pay it a visit.

Jungle Beach

The Fort offers many more attractions (like the lighthouse and the mosque) but I will move on to Jungle Beach, situated across the sea from the Fort and reached by land via a short trip of two kilometers down Matara road and then by taking the turn off, opposite a large cement factory; Rumassala Road. Jungle Beach is one of the most secluded and wildest beaches I have been to in Sri Lanka, and it is reached by a climb up Rumassala mountain and then by trekking down through greenery through a small route which leads to deserted, beautiful beaches.

There is an interesting legend surrounding Rumassala. It was apparently a part of the Himalayas; dropped by Hanuma on the way, while he transported a part of that mountain range for his master, Ravana, who requested some herb or the other from it. As the story goes, Hanuma could not remember or identify which particular herb his master wanted, so he decided to bring the whole mountain along. Oddly enough, Rumassala is famous for its rare medicinal plants and naturalists do believe there must be something special about such a quantity of rare herbs being concentrated in one place such as this.

There are two routes that can be taken to Jungle Beach; the more scenic starts at the end of the Rumassala road. Pay a visit to the tranquil Japanese Peace Pagoda when you hit the spot. The trail to Jungle Beach heads off to the right and sports sweeping views of the sea and the outcrop of the city of Galle. The beach itself is small and secluded. Bathing when the sea is rough is ill advised. But is a must during gentler times. Swimming out too far is best left to the more experienced swimmers. Snorkeling is also a great thing to do as the area is part of a coral reef. Take your own snorkeling equipment.

Handungoda Tea Estate

If you have the time, drive further south and find your way to the Handungoda Tea Estate, home of the world famous White tea; said to contain special anti oxidant elements that slow down the process of ageing; this variety of tea retails for $1000 a kilo. Not your average corner shop fare.

The estate itself is beautiful and once you are inside it is hard to tell that you are only a couple of kilometers from the coast. Have a chat with the owner and listen to how he ‘rediscovered’ his best selling tea product. Apparently the ancient Chinese made it all the time, with actual virgins assigned to pluck the tea with golden scissors. The stalks were put into golden bowls and were never touched by the human hand at any time during the whole process. The practice is reproduced here sans golden paraphernalia and actual virgins. But the tea is claimed to be just as good.

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Category: Galle
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